IT Workforce: Key Practices Help Ensure Strong Integrated Program Teams; Selected Departments Need to Assess Skill Gaps

GAO-17-8 Published: Nov 30, 2016. Publicly Released: Nov 30, 2016.
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Highlights

What GAO Found

Integrated program teams (IPT) are cross-functional or multidisciplinary groups of individuals that are organized and collectively responsible for delivering a product to an external or internal customer. GAO identified three characteristics that contribute to the creation and operation of a comprehensive IPT: (1) executive leadership through team support, empowerment, and oversight; (2) team composition; and (3) processes for team operations. GAO also identified 18 practices supporting these three characteristics (see figure). For example, executive leadership is effective when sufficient resources are provided and teams are empowered to act, team composition is more robust when the IPT has cross-functional and multidisciplinary skill sets, and team operations are streamlined when team guidelines are established and stakeholders are involved as active members. When implemented, these practices can increase the IPT's likelihood of success by having the right mix of expertise to recognize problems early and by having the requisite authority to do something about them.

Figure: Key Characteristics and Practices of Comprehensive Integrated Program Teams (IPT) for Major Information Technology Acquisitions

Figure: Key Characteristics and Practices of Comprehensive Integrated Program Teams (IPT) for Major Information Technology Acquisitions

While multiple factors contribute to a robust IPT, one aspect involves having a strong information technology (IT) workforce. To evaluate agencies' IT workforce planning efforts, GAO identified eight key workforce planning steps and activities based on relevant laws and guidance (see table).

Table: Summary of Key Information Technology (IT) Workforce Planning Steps and Activities

Set the strategic direction for IT workforce planning

Activity 1: Establish and maintain a workforce planning process

Activity 2: Develop competency and staffing requirements

Analyze the IT workforce to identify skill gaps

Activity 3: Assess competency and staffing needs regularly

Activity 4: Assess gaps in competencies and staffing

Develop strategies and implement activities to address IT skill gaps

Activity 5: Develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing

Activity 6: Implement activities that address gaps (including IT acquisition cadres, crossfunctional training of acquisition and program personnel, career paths for program managers, plans to strengthen program management, and use of special hiring authorities)

Monitor and report progress in addressing IT skill gaps

Activity 7: Monitor the agency's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps

Activity 8: Report to agency leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps

Source: GAO analysis of relevant laws and guidance. | GAO-17-8

Five federal departments had mixed progress in assessing their IT skill gaps. While all five departments had demonstrated important progress in either partially or fully implementing key IT workforce planning activities, each had shortfalls. For example, four departments had not demonstrated an established IT workforce planning process.

Figure: Selected Departments' Implementation of Eight Key Information Technology Workforce Planning Activities

Figure: Key Characteristics and Practices of Comprehensive Integrated Program Teams (IPT) for Major Information Technology Acquisitions

As shown in the figure, of the five departments, the Department of Defense had the most robust IT workforce planning process by fully or partially implementing all eight activities. However, the departments have not yet fully implemented all of the practices for various reasons. For example, policies were not comprehensive in requiring such activities or were not being applied to IT workforce planning at four departments, one department placed a greater emphasis on assessing its cybersecurity workforce, and two departments identified the need to perform more granular assessments of the workforce in order to identify skill gaps. Until the departments fully implement key workforce planning steps and activities, they risk not adequately assessing and addressing gaps in knowledge and skills that are critical to the success of major acquisitions.

Why GAO Did This Study

In fiscal year 2017, the federal government is expected to spend more than $89 billion on IT. In many instances, agencies have not consistently applied best practices that are critical to successfully acquiring IT investments, such as ensuring program staff have the necessary knowledge and skills. In an effort to aid agencies in successfully delivering projects, the Office of Management and Budget has called for the development and use of IPTs for federal IT acquisitions to ensure that projects consist of the appropriate mix of individuals. GAO was asked to review IPTs for federal IT acquisitions and the federal government's IT workforce planning.

GAO's objectives were to (1) identify key characteristics of comprehensive IPTs responsible for managing major federal IT acquisitions, and (2) evaluate whether selected federal agencies are adequately assessing and addressing gaps in knowledge and skills that are critical to the success of major IT acquisitions. To do so, GAO reviewed relevant literature; interviewed IPT experts; and evaluated IT workforce efforts at five departments: Commerce, Defense, Health and Human Services, Transportation, and the Treasury.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that selected departments implement IT workforce planning practices to facilitate more rigorous analyses of gaps between current skills and future needs, and the development of strategies for filling the gaps. Four departments agreed and one, Defense, partially agreed with our recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Commerce
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Commerce should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish and maintain a workforce planning process; (2) develop competency and staffing requirements; (3) assess competency and staffing needs regularly; (4) assess gaps in competencies for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including an IT acquisition cadre, cross-functional training of acquisition and program personnel, a career path for program managers, and special hiring authorities, if justified and cost-effective; (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing IT competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.
Open
Commerce agreed with this recommendation and, as of March 2022, has fully implemented seven workforce planning activities and taken steps to implement the remaining activity. Specifically, between July 2020 and September 2021, Commerce provided evidence that it had fully implemented the activities to (1) establish an IT workforce planning process; (2) develop competency and staffing requirements; (3) assess competency and staffing needs regularly; (4) assess gaps in competencies; (5) develop strategies and plans to address the gaps, and (6) monitor; and (7) report on progress in addressing gaps. While the agency provided evidence of implementing strategies and plans, it did not clearly show what steps it had taken to address activity six: to implement activities that address gaps. To fully implement this recommendation, Commerce needs to continue its ongoing efforts to implement that remaining activity. Until Commerce implements the remaining activity, it risks inadequately assessing and addressing gaps in knowledge and skills that are critical to the success of major acquisitions.
Department of Defense To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Defense should require the Chief Information Officer, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) develop competencies for all staff; (2) assess competency needs regularly for all positions; (3) assess gaps in competencies for all components of the workforce; (4) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies; (5) implement activities that address gaps, including developing a program management career path, if justified and cost-effective; (6) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency gaps identified for IT staff; and (7) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency gaps.
Closed – Implemented
DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. In October 2019 (in GAO-20-129), we reported the results of our evaluation of DOD's progress in implementing the eight IT workforce planning activities. Specifically, we reported that the department had fully implemented the activities to develop competency and staffing requirements and assess competency and staffing needs regularly, substantially implemented four other activities, and partially implemented the remaining two activities. Since then, DOD has fully implemented the remaining activities. Specifically, in December 2021, DOD issued a policy and guidance that defined a workforce planning process for its cyberspace workforce. In January 2022, DOD provided documentation demonstrating that it had identified work roles of critical need, developed and implemented strategies and plans to address the needs, and monitored and reported on progress in implementing the strategies and plans. As a result of its actions, the department has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.
Department of Health and Human Services To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish and maintain a workforce planning process inclusive of all staff; (2) develop staffing requirements for all positions; (3) assess staffing needs regularly; (4) assess gaps in competencies and staffing for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including an IT acquisition cadre, if justified and cost-effective; (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.
Closed – Implemented
In October 2019 (in GAO-20-129), we reported the results of our evaluation of the Department of Health and Human Services' progress in implementing the eight IT workforce planning activities. Specifically, we reported that the department had substantially implemented the activity to develop competency and staffing requirements, partially implemented three other activities, and either minimally or not implemented the remaining four activities. As of September 2021, the department had fully implemented six activities and substantially implemented the remaining two activities. Specifically, in June 2021, the department completed an assessment of work roles of critical need as part of an Office of Personnel Management requirement to do so. As a part of this assessment, the department identified work role gaps including whether they were due to competencies or staffing; developed strategies and plans to address the gaps; took steps to implement the activities; and monitored them and reported on their progress. In addition, in September 2021, the department provided evidence that it had substantially implemented the activities associated with establishing and maintaining a workforce planning process and assessing competency and staffing needs reqularly. As a result of its actions, the department has improved its capability to anticipate and respond to changing staffing needs and to control human capital risks when developing, implementing, and operating critical IT systems.
Department of Transportation
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of Transportation should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish a time frame for when the department is to finalize its draft workforce planning process and maintain that process; (2) develop staffing requirements for all positions; (3) assess competency and staffing needs regularly for all positions; (4) assess gaps in staffing for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including an IT acquisition cadre, cross-functional training of acquisition and program personnel, a career path for program managers, and use of special hiring authorities, if justified and cost-effective;e (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps.
Open
The Department of Transportation (DOT) agreed with this recommendation. In January 2020, DOT officials told us it had established a workgroup to lead and conduct workforce-planning activities, and had defined the strategic goals and objectives for the department's IT workforce. As of March 2022, the agency has implemented two of the eight recommended IT workforce-planning activities-developing competency and staffing requirements, and assessing gaps in competencies and staffing. DOT officials stated that the department is continuing its efforts to implement the recommendation and plans to complete final actions by November 2023. To fully address this recommendation, DOT should complete the remaining six IT workforce-planning activities. Until the department completes these activities, it risks not adequately assessing and addressing gaps in knowledge and skills that are critical to the success of major acquisitions.
Department of the Treasury
Priority Rec.
This is a priority recommendation.
To facilitate the analysis of gaps between current skills and future needs, the development of strategies for filling the gaps, and succession planning, the Secretary of the Treasury should require the Chief Information Officer, Chief Human Capital Officer, and other senior managers as appropriate to address the shortfalls in IT workforce planning noted in this report, including the following actions: (1) establish and maintain a workforce planning process; (2) develop competency and staffing requirements for all positions; (3) assess competency and staffing needs regularly; (4) assess gaps in competencies and staffing for all components of the workforce; (5) develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing for all components of the workforce; (6) implement activities that address gaps, including a career path for program managers and special hiring authorities, if justified and cost-effective; (7) monitor the department's progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps; and (8) report to department leadership on progress in addressing competency and staffing gaps for all components of the workforce.
Open
Treasury agreed with this recommendation, and, as of March 2022, had fully implemented four workforce planning activities. Specifically, In October 2019, we reported that Treasury had fully implemented the activity to develop competency and staffing requirements. In March 2021, Treasury also provided documentation demonstrating that it had fully implemented the activity to assess competency and staffing needs regularly. In March 2022, Treasury provided documentation demonstrating that it had implemented the activities to assess gaps in competencies and staffing, and to develop strategies and plans to address gaps in competencies and staffing. In addition, the agency provided evidence of progress it had made toward implementing the remaining four activities but did not provide expected timeframes for completion. Until Treasury fully implements those remaining four activities, it is at increased risk of not having the IT staff with the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to execute a range of management functions that support its mission and goals.

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